After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.
A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.
The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.
She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.
Legendborn is 100% the reason why I choose to never DNF a book. I’m not going to lie, this was so hard to get into, I found the opening chapters trite and full of high school/College cliche’s, honestly I struggled to bring myself to pick it back up. However the payoff for pushing through this opening section was nothing short of huge and I’m glad I carried on. The world building does start off a little clumsy, there is just so much information to absorb with regard to magic, the concept of legendborn and onceborn, and then every branch and facet of the Order, vassells, pages, scions…. you get the picture. However, it does click into place and I became utterly swept up in it all. The mythology is very well thought out and researched, I adored the addition of the Welsh, leading back to the original land of King Arthur. So often the other members of the round table get forgotten in retellings, but each line is considered and every Page must chose a path, I found this to be a really refreshing and compelling take on the myth. I loved the Buffy vibe with many of the creatures and the way they are fought too. Once past the opening, the school setting pretty much falls away and we are in a wonderful world of old magic, imposing buildings and impressive grounds, much of the action takes place at night, adding to the atmospheric feel.
Bree is such an amazingly complex character, whilst she could easily have been whiny and full of self pity, her ability to recognise the changes in herself from before and after her devastating loss is astute, she rarely holds back when it comes to challenging the bigoted colonial and very white Legendborn Order, yet in a parallel to what we see in the real world, she finds herself often coming to the attention of the police and faculty heads, when her white counterparts get to walk away. Her time with Patricia is some of the most compelling of the book, especially with her help in identifying and summarising the two magic systems in play. The way the second is discovered is pretty heartbreaking but it fits in significantly with the way that race is put forward. As Bree finds herself able to discover more about her own history and magic, the history of a school and secret society built on slavery is well woven into the pages and mirrors both the magics and the way they are formed and wielded. Selwyn sadly is a walking YA cliche, however his character as a Merlin is brilliantly brought into the 21st century. Nick as a love interest really fell flat. William is really the only other character with depth and I think that is because he was written with great humour and I wish that Alice had more time to shine as her banter with Bree was brilliant.
I did struggle with the short time period in which everything occurs, whilst the writing reflects a feeling of a large passing of time, there are occasions when I was reminded that only a night or a few days had passed, which pulled me away from the story a bit and pulled the believability of some relationships to the limit. But ultimately this is a great story that really pulled me in with its creativity and amazing protagonist, the final battle is brilliantly written and left me with my heart pounding and just in awe at how the pieces slotted together. Now that the groundwork has been laid, I just know that the next in the series will hit the ground running and I am totally here for it!